Rom 14:1-15:13: The strong and the weak: Cp Paul's similar
advice in 1Co 8:1-11:1. His treatment in Romans is briefer and given in more
general terms, though there are obvious similarities, such as the danger that by
his conduct the strong will cause the weak to stumble or fall, and the
corresponding danger that the weak will sit in judgment on the strong. The
differences are numerous: there is no mention in Rom of idols or food offered to
idols; the word "conscience" does not appear; the strong are not described as
those who have knowledge. On the other hand, we read in Rom of vegetarians and
of those who insist on observing a certain day in contrast to others who look on
all days as being alike. Neither of these features appears in 1Co.
"From speaking of those who were too lax in the indulgence of
natural appetites [Rom 13:11-14], the subject passes mainly to those who are too
scrupulous. The object is not to remove these scruples, but to show those who
have them and those who have them not how to live in Christian peace" (Stifler).
Vv 1-12: Brethren should refrain from judging one
ACCEPT: Gr "proslambano" is capable of conveying the
sense of fullness of fellowship and warm wholeheartedness; this is shown by its
use in Acts 18:26; 28:2.
HIM WHOSE FAITH IS WEAK: Not "weak in THE faith" (KJV),
as though he understood not the first principles of the faith. But rather, weak
in his own personal faith. That is, his faith is not strong enough to enable him
to perceive the full liberty he has in Christ to partake. He is not troubled by
questions of doctrine, but by doubt as to whether it is right for him to eat
some foods (cf v 23).
WITHOUT PASSING JUDGMENT ON DISPUTABLE MATTERS: Without
trying to decide between various vacillating opinions, or various questionable
"Precious though the gift of precise thinking may be, it can
become unbearably tyrannical if overpressed, and we must beware of the danger of
making it seem that salvation, or even fellowship itself, is a matter of
competence in logic or consistency in exposition" (CMPA, Xd 109:10).
The form of the Greek verb here means "go on receiving"; the
RSV is even more gracious: "Welcome him." Here is no grudging, grumbling
acceptance, but open-hearted full Christian fellowship. It is the business of
the "strong" (or those who consider themselves so) to "walk the extra mile" in
receiving and helping, not "judging", the "weak" (Rom 15:1,2).
"The ecclesia is to receive those who are troubled by these
conflicting thoughts and doubts, not however, to judge or condemn them for such,
but to help them reach unto a full conviction of faith" (HPM, Log
"It is easy to see why Paul so advises. As long as the weak
brother with (slightly) off-beat ideas continues in the fellowship of sounder
brethren there is some hope that by degrees he will achieve a more balanced
point of view. Such things have been known to happen. But the necessary
condition must be observed: 'Not to doubtful disputations.' If such a problem
individual is to continue to share the blessings of the community, he must be
prepared to cease all forms of propagation of the ideas he has espoused. Only on
these eminently reasonable terms can his membership in the family of Christ be
tolerated" (HAW, Tes 43:344).
Paul's advice in Rom 14 is in direct contrast to the popular
"first pure, then peaceable" syndrome, as misapplied by so many. Here is
obviously something "impure", in the sense of being doubtful and disputatious,
pertaining to the faith, but still Paul counsels the need for peace! While the
affected ecclesia is experiencing peace within and a cordial relationship with
its sister-ecclesias, then the "body" will be better able to correct the minor
annoyance of a doubtful opinion. But just let there be an accusatory letter, a
"call to arms" in a remote area where the "problem" has not even reached, a cry
for "purity at any cost": and the situation rapidly deteriorates into a
ONE MAN'S FAITH ALLOWS HIM TO EAT EVERYTHING, BUT ANOTHER
MAN, WHOSE FAITH IS WEAK, EATS ONLY VEGETABLES: Paul did not say why the
weaker brother chose not to eat meat. This brother's reasons were immaterial to
Paul. The point is that for some reason this Christian believed that he would
please God more by not eating meat than by eating it. He was wrong. God has not
forbidden Christians to eat any food (1Ti 4:3,4).
THE MAN WHO EATS EVERYTHING MUST NOT LOOK DOWN ON HIM WHO
DOES NOT, AND THE MAN WHO DOES NOT EAT EVERYTHING MUST NOT CONDEMN THE MAN WHO
DOES, FOR GOD HAS ACCEPTED HIM: The person who eats should not view himself
as superior even though he is right or look down on his extremely sensitive
brother with a condescending attitude. The weaker brother should not judge the
more liberal believer as unacceptable to God either, because God HAS accepted
WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE SOMEONE ELSE'S SERVANT? TO HIS OWN
MASTER HE STANDS OR FALLS. AND HE WILL STAND, FOR THE LORD IS ABLE TO MAKE HIM
STAND: The weaker brother needs to remember to whom the stronger brother is
responsible and leave his judgment to God. Paul assured the weaker brother that
the stronger brother would stand approved by God because God approves his
liberty. God's grace provides both the possibility and the power for standing.
The first part of this verse sounds very much like Rom 2:1,3, where Paul rebuked
the self-satisfied Jew.
ONE MAN CONSIDERS ONE DAY MORE SACRED THAN ANOTHER; ANOTHER
MAN CONSIDERS EVERY DAY ALIKE. EACH ONE SHOULD BE FULLY CONVINCED IN HIS OWN
MIND: In this case the weaker brother does something and the stronger does
not. This is the opposite of the situation that Paul pictured in the previous
illustration. Again the reason the weaker brother observes the day is
immaterial. The point is that he observes the day. When Paul wrote, Sabbath and
Jewish feast day observances were matters of disagreement among Christians. The
Jewish believers tended to observe these and the Gentile believers did
The observance of special days such as the Sabbath is a matter
of indifference, personal preference. None may impose the keeping of days on
another as a requisite to salvation: Gal 4:10,11; 5:1-4; Col 2:13-17.
In essential things, unity (Phi 1:27). In doubtful things,
liberty (Rom 14:6). In all things, love (1Co 13:1,5).
HE GIVES THANKS TO GOD... AND GIVES THANKS TO GOD: "In
other words, whatever stance is taken on the particular matter of eating meat
sacrificed to idols, as long as it is done in faith, is acceptable to God. This
is true for many matters of walk where the word of God gives us no direct
command. If you can thank God for it, it indicates that you have the faith to do
it. If you cannot thank God for it, it is sinful to proceed -- for the Bible
teaches, 'those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not
act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin' (Rom 14:23)"
Vv 7,8: Paul meant that no believer should live to please
himself alone but should live to please the Lord. The context makes this clear
(vv 6,8). The believer's desire to please the Lord will continue beyond the
grave, so Paul could also say that we do not die for ourselves. Our whole
existence, both now and in the age to come, should express our commitment to
please the Lord (Rom 8:38,39; cp Phi 1:20; 2Co 5:9).
In context, "live" = to enjoy, or indulge oneself (ie to eat
everything: v 2; to live to oneself: v 7), and "die" = to deny oneself (to eat
only vegetables: v 2; to die to oneself: v 7).
WHETHER WE... DIE, WE BELONG TO THE LORD: In the sense
of Luk 20:38.
FOR THIS REASON, CHRIST DIED AND RETURNED TO LIFE SO THAT
HE MIGHT BE THE LORD OF BOTH THE DEAD AND THE LIVING: Jesus Christ also
lived, died, and lives again. Consequently he is Lord of both those who have
died and those who are still alive. Paul's point was that he is the Judge, and
we are not.
AND RETURNED TO LIFE: Christ was raised from the dead
because he was sinless (Acts 2:24); this was for our justification (Rom 4:25).
Thus he obtained preeminence (Col 1:15,18) as the "Lord" (Acts 2:36), who has
power over the living and the dead (1Th 5:10).
YOU, THEN, WHY DO YOU JUDGE YOUR BROTHER? OR WHY DO YOU
LOOK DOWN ON YOUR BROTHER?: Both the critical weaker brother and the
scorning stronger brother are guilty of the same offense, namely judging
prematurely and unwarrantedly.
LOOK DOWN ON: "Despise" (Diag, Roth).
FOR WE WILL ALL STAND BEFORE GOD'S JUDGMENT SEAT:
"There is no need for us to associate despondency and despair with the thought
of appearing before the Judgment Seat of Christ. True, our sins and our failings
are constant reminders of the possibility of our failure there. But Paul's
message to us is not intended to paralyze us with fear or to crush us under
hopeless remorse; it is rather intended to influence our lives for good, to spur
us to greater activity in Christ's service; to mould our characters nearer to
the pattern he has left us, that we may win success when Christ appears. Paul
desires us to remember the one certainty in our lives, and remembering it, to
order our lives accordingly. There is no occasion for despondency and alarm,
provided we are in earnest about our standing in the day of Christ. It is true
that we fail and we sin; but God 'knows our frame, and remembers that we are
dust', and has made merciful provision for our weakness. There is no limit to
God's forgiveness if it is sought in accordance with His conditions... Are we
such egotists as to imagine that our cases are so unique as to be beyond the
saving grace of God?" (FWT 22,23).
GOD'S JUDGMENT SEAT: So in RSV, but AV has "of Christ".
This then is another reference to the judgment seat (Gr "bema") of Christ (2Co
5:10; cf 1Co 3:12-15).
AS SURELY AS I LIVE... EVERY KNEE WILL BOW BEFORE ME; EVERY
TONGUE WILL CONFESS TO GOD: This quotation is a combination of Isa 49:18 and
Isa 45:23. In Phi 2:10,11 the same passages from Isaiah are used: it is because
the Son of God has humbled himself, even unto death, that the Father will exalt
him to receive all power and authority.
Thus, at his coming and the judgment, all responsible will
acknowledge his lordship: Luk 14;14; 1Th 4:13-17; 1Co 4:5; 2Ti 4:8; Rev 22:12;
Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2.
SO THEN, EACH OF US WILL GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF HIMSELF TO
GOD: In this summary statement Paul identified the personal responsibility
of every believer to give account of himself or herself to God, through Christ.
We will not have to answer for our fellow believers or anyone else, but we will
have to account for our own deeds: "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's
sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we
must give account" (Heb 4:13).
Vv 13-23: Brethren must avoid offending one another: The
strong brother is warned that his example may have a disastrous effect on the
one who is weak, by leading him to do something that might damage his weak
LET US STOP PASSING JUDGMENT ON ONE ANOTHER: "Do not
judge. Rather, try to understand, and make an effort to help. Most people need
your patience more than your criticism. Leave the judging to God, unless
absolutely necessary in faithfulness to the Truth. He has guaranteed He will
take care of all the judging that is necessary, at the proper time. If someone
annoys or offends us, the trouble is most likely in our own pride and vanity or
small-mindedness or touchiness. Thin skin is a miserable disease. If we were
large-minded enough, or less self-centered, we would feel sympathy and
compassion, rather than offense. The command not to judge is a broad scriptural
principle. It is not, however, to be wrongly used to undermine the specific (and
equally important) command to keep Faith and Fellowship sound. When we face a
required decision, then we must judge and act -- very carefully and prayerfully:
very gently if it means censure of others: very sorrowfully if it means
separation -- but always firmly and faithfully. There is a time when it is a
sin, and dereliction of duty, not to 'judge righteous judgment'. But let us cure
ourselves of judging and criticizing as a habit and a hobby. This is purely of
the flesh" (GVG).
INSTEAD, MAKE UP YOUR MIND...: By a neat use of
language, Paul employs the same verb "judge" (Gr "krino") in a somewhat
different sense ("make up your mind"). He is calling for a determination to
adopt a course of action that will not hurt another brother, a decision once for
all to avoid whatever might impede his progress in the faith or cause him to
fall. In other word, Paul says, 'Do NOT judge your brother, but DO judge
yourself, and your motives, and your actions!'
STUMBLING BLOCK: The Gr "proskomma" is literally
something against which one may strike his foot, causing him to stumble or even
fall. Sw 1Co 8:9.
OBSTACLE: The Gr "skandalon" presents a different
picture, that of a trap designed to ensnare a victim. It is used of something
that constitutes a temptation to sin. Sw 1Co 8:13. Jesus applied this word to
Peter when that disciple sought to deter him from going to the cross (Mat
16:23). Here it could be taken as a stern warning against deliberately enticing
a brother to do what for him would be sinful (cp v 23).
NO FOOD IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF: Elsewhere Paul affirms in
a similar context that everything God created is good (1Ti 4:4), an observation
that rests on the record of creation (Gen 1:31). In this passage Paul seems to
be referring to the words of Jesus in Mark 7:15-23, where the Master declares
that one is not rendered unclean by what goes into him but rather by what comes
out of him, from his inner life. Mark adds the comment that in this
pronouncement Jesus declared all foods "clean."
BUT IF ANYONE REGARDS SOMETHING AS UNCLEAN, FOR HIM IT IS
UNCLEAN: But not everyone understands this issue, and if one is convinced in
his heart that some foods are unclean (eg, in terms of the Mosaic food laws),
for him such foods remain unclean. Until or unless he is convinced otherwise, it
would violate his conscience to partake of them. Even the apostle Peter, who had
been with Jesus and had heard his teaching, did not understand this point until
some time after Pentecost (Acts 10:9-15). Even today there are many Christians
-- Seventh Day Adventists, for example -- who believe that they are required to
observe the dietary restrictions of the Law of Moses.
IF YOUR BROTHER IS DISTRESSED BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU EAT, YOU
ARE NO LONGER ACTING IN LOVE: Even if the strong brother does not try to
convince the weak to change his habits, his own practice, since it is known, can
be a stumbling block to the other, causing distress. This distress may be viewed
as reaction to the callous indifference of the strong brother.
DO NOT BY YOUR EATING DESTROY YOUR BROTHER: "Destroy"
here is a far greater calamity than the "distress" of the earlier phrase. How
might the weaker brother be "destroyed"? Perhaps by following the example of the
stronger brother, despite his own weak conscience. Thereby he may find himself
doing what he still believes to be wrong, and he will have started down a
slippery slope -- being led now to do yet other things which he regards as
wrong, because it just doesn't matter!
An analogous situation might be the "strong brother" who sees
no harm, and himself is not harmed, by occasionally indulging in strong drink.
But the "weaker brother", who is a recovering alcoholic, is perhaps encouraged
to do the same -- to his own destruction.
Thus, a selfish insistence on liberty by the stronger one may
tear down and destroy the weaker one. But love, when it is exercised, will
invariably build up (1Co 8:1).
FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED: Christ laid down his life for the
weak as well as the strong, but -- perhaps more to the point here -- he also
subjugated his own WILL ("Not my will, but yours be done!") on behalf of others.
If even the Lord Jesus Christ did not "please himself", then surely neither
should we (Rom 15:3)!
DO NOT ALLOW WHAT YOU CONSIDER GOOD TO BE SPOKEN OF AS
EVIL: The good thing refers to the liberty to eat meat or to do anything
which is not specifically forbidden. But people could legitimately speak of it
as evil if it resulted in the fall of a brother.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NOT A MATTER OF EATING AND
DRINKING: With keen spiritual insight, Paul lifts the entire discussion to a
higher level than mere eating and drinking. His readers, all of them, are the
loyal subjects of Christ's coming kingdom. In that sphere the real concerns are
not externals such as diet but the spiritual realities motivating life and
shaping conduct. Surely the strong will agree that if their insistence on
Christian liberty endangers the spiritual development of the ecclesia as a
whole, or of individual believers, then they should be willing to forgo that
BUT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS: In this context "righteousness"
("dikaiosune") is not justification or the imputation of righteousness through
faith in the grace of God, as discussed in depth earlier in the letter, but
rather the right conduct to which the believer is called in obedience to the
will of God (cf Rom 6:13,16,18).
PEACE AND JOY IN THE HOLY SPIRIT: Peace (which includes
reconciliation with God: Rom 5:1) and joy [all through Philippians!] are fruits
of the Spirit, and manifestations of the love which is taught by God (Gal
5:22,23; cp Rom 12:9,10).
However, it must not be lost sight of that the kingdom of God
IS (or rather, WILL BE) a tangible, physical, material force in the earth, which
will break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms (eg, Dan 2:44).
ANYONE WHO SERVES CHRIST IN THIS WAY IS PLEASING TO GOD AND
APPROVED BY MEN: Acceptance with God involves the stressing of these great
principles of Christian life, rather than whether or not we engage in some
permissible practice. This emphasis also wins the approval of other people since
they realize what is more important, and who see these Christian principles in
operation and experience its benefits.
Peace and edification are always desirable. Bitterness,
strife, and division are never desirable.
PEACE: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be
called sons of God" (Mat 5:9).
EDIFICATION: It will be recalled that "edification" (Gr
"oikodome", to build up, as of an edifice: cp Eph 2:21; Heb 3:6; 1Pe 2:4-10) was
Paul's key word in dealing with the problems created by the manifestation of
Holy Spirit gifts in Corinth (1Co 14:5,12,26). Mutual edification implies that
the strong, despite their tendency to look down on the weak, may actually learn
something from them. It may be that they will come to appreciate loyalty to a
tender conscience and begin to search their own hearts to discover that they
have cared more about maintaining their position than about loving the weaker
brethren. Through the fresh manifestation of love by the strong the weak will be
lifted in spirit and renewed in faith and life.
"The ecclesia was intended to be a shelter -- a respite --
from the chaos that is the world. The ecclesia is ordered by God's word.
Principles guide the conduct of the members to create order and peace. How
destructive it is when this peace is violated such that those who seek shelter
from the world find this sanctuary defiled. We can imagine finding ourselves in
a violent storm. The lightning strikes all around us. The wind tosses us to and
fro. The rain hits with such force as to sting. Yet, we see in the distance a
refuge -- a safe harbor from the storm. We fight the elements with all our being
to reach this shelter, only to find a hollowed out shell of what was once a
building fitly framed together. The once solid building now provides no shelter,
no comfort and no peace for the weary traveler. Such is the pity of a
disharmonious ecclesia to the weary traveler along life's road.
"In ecclesial battles, history has shown that the protagonists
are seldom the casualties. More times than not, those slaughtered are the babes
in Christ. The Bible mentions several times the horrendous ancient practice of
killing infants by smashing their young heads against a wall. We can see, in our
mind's eye, this sickening practice. A soldier takes an infant by the feet.
Despite the pleading of the watching mother, he swings the child with all his
force until the child's head smashes into the nearby wall. Anyone with a shred
of sanity left is sickened by the thought of such a display. Yet, how many times
have brethren, enraged by some perceived slight or misspoken word, lashed out at
another -- destroying the peace and, in so doing, spiritually speaking,
destroying a babe in the family of Christ? In modern military parlance, we speak
of the deaths of innocents and non-combatants as 'collateral damage.' The world
was horrified when Timothy McVey described those young children in the day care
facility in Oklahoma City -- murdered by his bomb -- as 'collateral damage'.
"We too can dismiss ecclesial casualties as collateral damage
when in fact we should remember the words of Jesus: 'It were better for him that
a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea, than that
he should offend one of these little ones.'
"Too often we paint ecclesial strife as a necessary evil to
maintain purity of doctrine or walk. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is not. It is
amazing how often, in an attempt to bring supposed order to an ecclesia,
divisive and inappropriate actions are taken. We all too often forget that
'hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions,
factions and envy' are all works of the flesh of which the Bible clearly states:
'I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do
such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.' Our focus verse taken from
Rom 14 is not about critical doctrine or walk. It is about nonessential doctrine
-- the eating of meat sacrificed to idols.
"There are times when decisive action needs to be taken to
maintain order in an ecclesia. When the ecclesias in Crete were falling apart
from the destructive doctrine of the Judaizers, Paul sent Titus to 'set in order
the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city.' The decisive
actions of Titus -- coupled with his training of spiritually mature brethren to
do the same (which Paul takes great pains to define for him in Titus 1:6-9)
--were intended to fix these problems and bring peace. The whole letter of Paul
to Titus is concerned with how to bring peace to a contentious ecclesia and is
well worth our time in study. 'Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are
pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if
there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those
things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do:
and the God of peace shall be with you' (Phi 4:8,9)" (KT).
DO NOT DESTROY THE WORK OF GOD FOR THE SAKE OF FOOD:
The individual brother, weak though he be, is the creative work of God. We must
get our priorities straight: individual preference, even if it is legitimate and
permissible, should not take precedence over the needs of the weaker members of
IT IS BETTER NOT TO EAT MEAT OR DRINK WINE OR TO DO
ANYTHING ELSE THAT WILL CAUSE YOUR BROTHER TO FALL: The "better" (literally,
noble or praiseworthy) course is to do without meat under the circumstances and
to refrain from drinking wine, if partaking would be a stumbling block to
anyone. Paul extends the principle to include ANYTHING that might have this
effect. For the first time in the discussion wine is mentioned, suggesting that
a measure of asceticism may be in view here. (The apostle may have anticipated
this item by referring to drinking in v 17.) In view of his strong stand taken
in connection with a similar question involving the Corinthians (1Co 8:13), his
counsel here is not something new: "Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother
to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to
fall." Paul is simply commending to others what has for some time been the rule
WHATEVER YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THESE THINGS KEEP BETWEEN
YOURSELF AND GOD: The strong believer can be happy in his private enjoyment
of permissible practices because he knows that he is neither violating the will
of God nor the conscience of a weak brother.
BUT THE MAN WHO HAS DOUBTS IS CONDEMNED IF HE EATS, BECAUSE
HIS EATING IS NOT FROM FAITH: This verse, in contrast to v 22, seems
addressed particularly to the weak. The weak brother who eats something that he
believes he should not eat stands condemned by his own conscience and by God (cf
Gal 2:11). His action is contrary to what he believes is right.
ANYTHING THAT DOES NOT COME FROM FAITH IS SIN: "Faith"
here as in vv 1,22 does not refer to the teachings of THE faith, but to what a
person believes to be the will of God for himself personally. If a person does
what he believes to be wrong, even though it is not wrong in itself, it becomes
sin for him. He has violated what he believes to be God's will, and his
conscience is thereby weakened. His action has become, for him at least, an act
of rebellion against God -- making the next act of rebellion that much easier to